Policy brief

Policy brief

What is a Policy Brief?

A policy brief presents a concise summary of information that can help readers understand, and likely make decisions about, policies. Policy briefs give objective summaries of relevant research including literature and findings from data, suggest possible policy options, or go even further and argue for particular courses of action.  Each student will choose an area of interest from the Deerwalk dataset to use in their policy brief.

Audience of a policy brief

For the purpose of this assignment, you are presenting to a hospital administrator or government leader on a dominant ailment or disease that is present in the Deerwalk dataset.

Tone and terminology

Clear language is especially important in policy briefs. If you find yourself using jargon, try to replace it with more direct language that a non-specialist reader would be more likely to understand. When specialized terminology is necessary, explain it quickly and clearly to ensure that your reader doesn’t get confused.

Format of a policy brief

Your policy brief must use a lots of headings and have relatively short sections.  You must also include at least 2 visualizations of your data (at least one of them must be done in Tabelau)

  • Title:A good title quickly communicates the contents of the brief in a memorable way.
  • Executive Summary:This section is often one to two paragraphs long; it includes an overview of the problem and the proposed policy action.
  • Context or Scope of Problem:This section communicates the importance of the problem and aims to convince the reader of the necessity of policy action.  This section should be heavily cited and information should come from both the literature and the data. This section should be approximately 2 pages long
  • Policy Alternatives:This section discusses the current policy approach and explains proposed options. It should be fair and accurate while convincing the reader why the policy action proposed in the brief is the most desirable.  This section should be approximately .5-1 page long
  • Policy Recommendations:This section contains the most detailed explanation of the concrete steps to be taken to address the policy issue.  This section should be approximately .5-1 page long
  • Visualizations: Data visualizations can be spread throughout the brief to highlight important concepts and findings (minimum of 2 visualizations, Deerwalk is a good place to get these visualizations)
  • Appendices:If some readers might need further support in order to accept your argument but doing so in the brief itself might derail the conversation for other readers, you might include the extra information in an appendix.
  • Consulted or Recommended Sources:These should be reliable sources that you have used throughout your brief to guide your policy discussion and recommendations.

Some Examples of a policy brief

This handout has emphasized that good policy briefs are clear, concise, and focused on applying credible research to policy problems. Let’s take a look at two versions of the introduction to a policy brief to see how someone might write and revise to achieve these qualities:

A “not-so-good” policy brief

“Adolescents’ Dermatologic Health in Outlandia: A Call to Action”

The Report on Adolescents’ Dermatologic Health in Outlandia (2010), issued by Secretary of Health Dr. Polly Galver, served as a platform to increase public awareness on the importance of dermatologic health for adolescents. Among the major themes of the report are that dermatologic health is essential to general health and well-being and that profound and consequential dermatologic health disparities exist in the state of Outlandia. Dr. Galver stated that what amounts to a silent epidemic of acne is affecting some population groups–restricting activities as schools, work, and home–and often significantly diminishing the quality of life. Dr. Galver issued the Report on Adolescents’ Dermatologic Health as a wake-up call to policymakers and health professionals on issues regarding the state’s dermatologic health. (“A Not-so-good policy brief (Links to an external site.),” Reproduced with permission of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD.)

This paragraph introduces a relevant and credible source, but it fails to use that source to explain a problem and propose policy action. The reader is likely to be confused because the word “acne” does not appear until the middle of the paragraph, and the brief never states what action should be taken to address it. In addition to this lack of focus, the paragraph also includes unnecessary phrases like “among the major themes” that could be removed to make it more concise.

A better policy brief

“Seeing Spots: Addressing the Silent Epidemic of Acne in Outlandia’s Youth”

Acne is the most common chronic disease among adolescents in Outlandia (Outlandia
Department of Health, 2010). Long considered a benign rite of passage, acne actually has far-reaching effects on the health and well being of adolescents, significantly affecting success in school, social relationships, and general quality of life. Yet large portions of the state’s population are unable to access treatment for acne. The Secretary of Health’s Report on Adolescents’ Dermatologic Health in Outlandia (2010) is a call to action for policymakers and health professionals to improve the health and wellbeing of Outlandia’s youth by increasing access to dermatologic care (“A Better Policy Brief (Links to an external site.),” Reproduced with permission of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD.)

This paragraph is far more focused and concise than the first version. The opening sentence is straightforward; instead of focusing on the source, it makes a clear and memorable point that is supported by the source. Additionally, though the first version was titled “a call to action,” it did not actually say what that action might be. In this version, it is clear that the call is for increased access to dermatologic care.

Keep in mind that clarity, conciseness, and consistent focus are rarely easy to achieve in a first draft. Careful editing (Links to an external site.) and revision (Links to an external site.) are key parts of writing policy briefs.